The Un-Broken Edge of Darkness — Kintsugi Day 2

I remember the day we moved in to our recent abode and I opened a box labeled “teapots.” I collect them–Hall, character teapots, Lipton… all sorts. I have one teapot that means more to me than the others. It’s not because it’s particularly beautiful of elegant. It’s not because it’s old or finely-made. It has an astonishing provenance–it once belonged to General Douglas MacArthur–but that’s not what makes it precious. What makes it precious can be summed up in one word:

Howard.

More specifically: Uncle Howard. Fine-tune that specificity even more and you get: my mom’s brother Howard. Who was Howard and how in the world did he come to own General MacArthur’s teapot that he bequeathed, in turn, to his niece?

Ebay?

Estate sale?

Glamorous benefit auction?

No.

He received it from the General’s own hands upon the occasion of his departure as MacArthur’s Command Sargent Major. But, Howard’s and MacArthur’s relationship went beyond that. Howard babysat MacArthur’s kids, and there was a real fondness between them.

And then, of course, there was Corregidor….

Howard was one of the unlucky. Well, maybe “unlucky” isn’t the correct word. In the desperate days of death and rout that were the end of the American forces first on Bataan and then Corregidor, Howard was captured. He spent three months chained to a dungeon wall–a dungeon near the sea, that flooded with every high tide. I remember his stories of the filth that washed in with that tide–how he and three others struggled to keep their heads above water. He spoke of how his clothes rotted off him.

And then, of course, there was the Death, or “Hell,” Ship….

I remember stories of three Death Ships–packed with American POWs. These grim ferries brought POWs to camps in Japan and on Mainland Asia. Howard spoke of the unrelenting darkness, the stench, the screams of men whose minds fractured, who slipped, irretrievably, into madness. One of his friends succumbed. He died en route. And the Americans, with faulty intelligence guiding them, torpedoed one of the ships.

“We heard it hit,” Howard said.

He fell silent.

“Unlucky bastards…”

And then, of course, there was the Death Camp…

Howard was there until the end of the War. The boy from Oklahoma returned home changed, but not broken. He transferred to a different branch of the service, he married, he raised kids, he finally retired to Florida. He had a wicked-funny sense of humor. I could tell you stories of sombreros and silly string and lemons. He talked about the War, but was never ruled by it. In the end, he won that War. But, cancer got him 2003, but at least it was quick…

And my mother was left. The last of Linns standing….

 

So, that’s Howard. The owner of the teapot. A man unshattered by experiences that cost other men everything. So, when I began to unwrap a ball of packing paper, my heart sank at the sound of a tell-tale tinkle. The teapot shattered as Howard had never…IMAG2161

And then, of course, I cried…

But then, I pulled out the pieces this evening as I thought about Howard and kintsugi and things broken and repaired. Hindsight carries with it a sedative of sorts–an elixir that soothes us and makes us realize that we survived some horrific event or series of events and came out better for it.

Time pours gold between the cracks and strengthens us. Perhaps that’s the process that saved Howard in the dungeon, in the stinking hold of the Death Ship, in a POW camp, and beyond.

Howard was never bitter. He was never openly “haunted,” and, I suspect, never privately “haunted” either. He never said a bad word about what happened.

I stared at the splintered sherds of teapot.

Howard truly turned darkness into light.

Maybe I can do the same….

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Within my hands, a history held

In pieces shattered, sharp and smooth

Within my heart, I stand here moved

To mend the thing that so long dwelled

With he who other men impelled

To wreck their lives on distant shores

To battle fierce for freedom’s sake

And their full measure glory take.

So cowardice in them abhor,

So answer they the call of war.

In darkest places unforeseen

Did young men so naïvely slip

And thus bereft, the wicked strip’d

The comeliness of youthful mien.

In haunted eyes and quavering voice

In horrors of the past extolled

Whilst ribbons of the loss enfold

The bitter tang of choice.

Within my hands, our history held

In pieces shattered, sharp and smooth

Within my heart, I stand here moved

To mend the thing …

My own ghosts quelled….

2 thoughts on “The Un-Broken Edge of Darkness — Kintsugi Day 2

  1. Oh, Sweetie. To make sometihng so beautiful from something so heartbreaking. He would be proud of you.

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